A Gentleman’s Guide to Duelling: Of Honour and Honourable Quarrels is now available from amazon.com.
In 1958 Serge Lifar’s ballet, Black and White, was being produced by George de Cuevas’ dance company. During a public argument (whether over the rights to the production or changes made to it in the production, we are unclear) Cuevas slapped Lifar in the face.
Lifar sent seconds to Cuevas to demand an apology, which he refused to do. Cuevas was 73 years old, and Lifar was 54 at this time, but a duel was arranged. The gentlemen came together at Blaru near Vernon in Normandy on March 30, 1958.
After three passes taking approximately seven minutes, Lifar was lightly cut /scratched in the right forearm and the affair ended.
Over 30 newspaper photographers were in attendance and the New York Times reported it “may well have been the most delicate encounter in the history of French dueling.”
You can watch the duel with all the “exciting” commentary of the time.
A newsreel clip of a duel to first blood on May 26, 1938 with duelling epees in France. The duelists, Henri Bernstein (Dramatist) and Edouard Bourdet (Administrator of the Comédie Francaise). Bourdet (white shirt) is hit in the arm and the duel is halted.
Duel between Aurelio Greco and Candido Sassone on October 7, 1922. The duel starts at about 5 minutes into the film with Sassone on the left and Greco on the right.
Purportedly the argument was about a difference of opinion regarding fencing theory and it was dubbed ‘The duel of the Century.’ On the sixth assault Sassone is slightly wounded in the right forearm and thus defeated. While this ended the duel, the parties were not reconciled.
In attendance were none other than Maestro Pessina, Maestro Agesilao Greco and Maestro Ammannato.
The duel occurred February 26, 1912 at Neuilly when Paul de Cassagnac (editor of L’Autorite’) challenged Charles Maurras (of L’Action Francais). Maurras wrote an article saying some unkind things about M. Paul de Cassagnac and his brother, Guy (politics of course). Make sure to watch through the video for more dueling near the end.
If you’d like to read the offense, you’ll find a copy of the article here.
The Seconds for Paul Cassagnac were Count Gilbert de Voisins and Baron d’Anthes Heeckeren. The Seconds for Charles Maurras were Mr. Leon de Montesquiou and Lucien Moreau
The encounter was published in the NY Times, which reported the following in an article titled SPILL REAL BLOOD IN A PARIS DUEL; Charles Mauras Wounded in the Arm After Fierce Encounter with Paul de Cassagnac. (transcription below from the youtube video description)
“The two principals are first-rate fencers. As soon as the traditional, ‘Allez Messieurs!’ was utter, Maurras attacked his opponent with remarkable energy, de Cassagnac, who had the advantage of height, replying with equal vigor. The fight was extremely exciting for the onlookers while it lasted. It seemed at one moment as if Maurras had received a thrust in the neck, but fortunately only his beard was touched and this did not prevent him from continuing his offensive tactics, which he did with unabated ardor.
“But then it was his adversary’s turn to attack. Maurras, however, not to be daunted, dealt a vigorous thrust with his arm extended, but a moment later his sword fell from his grasp.
“De Cassagnac had disarmed him this time with a terrible forward movement which could not be checked, and if Maurras’ arm had not protected him he would have been wounded very badly in the chest. His arm was seriously injured.
“This brought the combat to a close.
Maurras next meets Guy de Cassagnac.”
You’ll find more information and pictures of the duel on this website.
A duel in November 1911 for Madame Curie’s honor. Pierre Mortier was a writer for “Gil Blas” and Gustave Tery wrote for “L’Oeuvre.” Tery had written a ‘smear’ campaign on Madame Marie Curie (stating she was “une Polonaise ambitieuse qui s’était, pour la gloire, accrochée aux basques de Curie et s’agrippait maintenant à celles de Langevin.”) and Curie’s friend, Mortier, challenged him to defend her honor.
Gustave Tery had previously fought a duel in 1909 and was wounded by Laurent Tailhade. That experience seems to pay off as Tery wounds Mortier in the arm.
You will find a little more information here.
Abraham Lincoln once stepped onto the dueling ground. When queried about it later in life he remarked “If all the good things I have ever done are remembered as long and as well as my scrape with Shields, it is plain I shall not be forgotten.” The notorious duel with James Shields has been almost completely forgotten probably because it did not come to blood shed.
An anonymous letter (signed ‘Rebecca’) to the editor of the Sangamo Journal on September 2, 1842, was published which railed against Shields. Lincoln was a state legislator at the time and James Shields the attorney and auditor of the State of Illinois. Hiding behind the amenity of anonymous writing Lincoln let the personal attacks fly. “Shields is a fool as well as a liar. With him truth is out of the question.” More over he calls Shields conceited by sarcastically quoting Shields as saying ‘Dear girls, it is distressing, but I cannot marry you all. Too well I know how much you suffer; but do, do remember, it is not my fault that I am so handsome and so interesting.’
Some historians believe that Lincoln’s future wife, Mary Todd, help write the letter. Shields asked the editor of the paper for Rebecca’s true identity. Apparently Lincoln had instructed the editor to share with Shields that it was Lincoln.
In proper format, Shields had a letter hand-delivered to Lincoln in Tremont on September 17 (full transcript available here) stating ‘I have become the object of slander, vituperation and personal abuse’ and demanded that only a full retraction ‘may prevent consequences which no one will regret more than myself.’ There was a little back and forth until Shields finally challenged Lincoln to a duel.
Lincoln accepted. He set the conditions of the duel to favor his height and reach in an effort to dissuade Shields from the affair. On September 19 Lincoln wrote a letter detailing his terms: “…the preliminaries of the fight are to be—
1st. Weapons—Cavalry broad swords of the largest size, precisely equal in all respects—and such as now used by the cavalry company at Jacksonville.
2nd. Position—A plank ten feet long, & from nine to twelve inches broad to be firmly fixed on edge, on the ground, as the line between us which neither is to pass his foot over upon forfeit of his life. Next a line drawn on the ground on either side of said plank & paralel with it, each at the distance of the whole length of the sword and three feet additional from the plank; and the passing of his own such line by either party during the fight shall be deemed a surrender of the contest.
3. Time—On thursday evening at five o’clock if you can get it so; but in no case to be at a greater distance of time than friday evening at five o’clock.
4th. Place—Within three miles of Alton on the opposite side of the river, the particular spot to be agreed on by you.”
The plan did not dissuade Shields, so on September 22 both parties crossed the river into Missouri to Bloody Island to settle the matter.
Luckily, shared friends came to the dueling grounds to reconcile the gentlemen. Shields was difficult to dissuade, but purportedly, Lincoln reached up and cut off a willow branch to emphasize his reach. Shields finally backed down and made peace with Lincoln. In fact during the Civil War, Shields was nominated for the rank of Brigadier General in the Union army, but final approval fell to President Lincoln. It was granted.